Theresa May chairs cabinet meeting to find way forward after dramatic collapse of deal
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney during a press conference at Government Buildings after the collapse of a deal on the Irish Border after Brexit. Photograph: PA
The Government is not going to reverse its support of a draft proposal that regulation in both parts of the island of Ireland should continue to be aligned after Brexit in a bid to avoid the return of a hard Border, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said this morning.
The text would have seen the British guarantee no changes to the Border after Brexit by pledging to keep “regulatory alignment” between North and South.
Speaking on his way into the Cabinet meeting where the fallout from the sudden collapse of the deal on Monday was discussed, Mr Coveney said the core meaning of the draft text which was agreed by the Government on Monday must remain, although he added the Government was willing to work on “presentation issues”.
A DUP backbench rebellion on Monday scuppered British prime minister Theresa May’s plans to sign off an agreement with the European Commission to move on to the next phase of the Brexit talks after next week’s summit.
Conservative MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate also rejected the proposal that regulation in both parts of the island of Ireland should continue to be aligned after Brexit.
On Monday evening Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused the British government of reneging onthe agreement.
Mrs May is due to brief her cabinet colleagues on Tuesday in a bid to find a solution to break the deadlock in Brexit talks on the Irish Border and other issues.
Mrs May said she will return to Brussels before the end of the week, with time running out to persuade leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations at a summit on December 14th-15th that “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues to move
The prime minister is also expected to speak by phone with DUP leader Arlene Foster on Tuesday to find a form of words acceptable to the Northern Irish party, on which Mrs May relies to prop up her minority administration at Westminster.
What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country.
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) December 5, 2017
Mr Coveney said: “Of course we need to listen to the DUP, they’re an important part of Northern Ireland politics, but we can’t have one political party that decides what’s acceptable and what’s not for the Irish and British governments and indeed for the EU negotiating team because they happen to hold the balance of power in Westminster.
“That is not a balanced approach to trying to resolve these issues.”
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the “DUP position has been illogical, and frankly reckless on this topic from the word go”.
“I would appeal to the DUP to understand this is not a case of orange vs green, this is all of us who live on this island protecting ourselves and protecting each other.”
Brexit pressure intensified on Mrs May on Tuesday as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives warned the British prime minister not to cut separate deals for different parts of the UK.
In pointed remarks, the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson tweeted that any Brexit agreement must be UK-wide.
Ms Davidson said: “The question on the ballot paper asked voters whether the UK should stay or leave the European Union – it did not ask if the country should be divided by different deals for different home nations.
“While I recognise the complexity of the current negotiations, no government of the Conservative and Unionist Party should countenance any deal that compromises the political, economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
“All sides agree there should be no return to the borders of the past between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
British chancellor Philip Hammond on Tuesday struck an upbeat note on the prospects for a breakthrough saying he was “very confident” the British government would be able to make progress over the coming days.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived for a scheduled meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, Mr Hammond said: “This is a very complex set of negotiations. There are many moving parts in it, there are many parties involved. “We are very confident that we will be able to move this forward.”
The Irish Times understands that the key parts of the agreed text were as follows: “The UK remains committed to protecting North-South co-operation and a guarantee to avoiding a hard Border. The UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship.
“Should this not be possible, the UK will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union and protection of the Good Friday agreement.”
Mr Varadkar on Monday said: “This text would form a part of the broader EU/UK agreement on phase one [of the Brexit negotiations] and allow us all to move on to phase two. I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today. I accept that the prime minister has asked for more time, and I know that she faces many challenges and I acknowledge that she is negotiating in good faith,” he said.
The proposed deal began to collapse when Ms Foster issued a statement insisting Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way,” she said.
“The real reason for today’s failure is the grubby deal the government did with the DUP after the election. It is disappointing that there has not been progress in the Brexit negotiations after months of delays and grandstanding,” he said.
In Dublin, there was widespread support from the Opposition for the Government’s stance. – Additional reporting: PA